The Likud-Beytenu joint list defended on Monday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's appointment of outgoing Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon as head of the Israel Land Administration.
Likud campaign chairman, Education Minister Gidon Sa'ar, responded on Monday to claims that Kahlon's appointment was "a gimmick," and that Netanyahu made the appointment out of pressure that his party's poll numbers were sliding, as many in the political system and media argued Monday.
"The appointment, which will come into effect after the elections, is by no means elections propaganda. It is the result of talks that have gone on for some time between the two [Netanyahu and Kahlon]. It's vital that Kahlon is made part of the reform designed to lower housing prices," Sa'ar said Monday, adding that he was "surprised by the other parties' panic, when only a month ago they praised Kahlon when he announced his resignation."
Sa'ar referred to Central Elections Committee Chairman Justice Elyakim Rubinstein's decision to prohibit the broadcast of the press conference announcing Kahlon's appointment from being televised, on the grounds that it was elections propaganda. "It was unpleasant that the prime minister's press conference was barred. It prevented the prime minister from presenting the news to the public. However thanks to the opposition everyone knows now. I would like to praise Shelly Yachimovich for her decision to petition against the appointment, on one hand her petition has no chance of passing, on the other it keeps Kahlon's appointment in the headlines," he said.
Likud campaign spokesman, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, rejected the criticism leveled at Netanyahu, saying that "the other parties are revealing their true faces. If they cared about lowering prices, they would welcome the appointment."
Netanyahu's political rivals characterized the Kahlon appointment as an elections gimmick. Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich criticized the move, saying "the appointment of Kahlon to a futile position in the Israel Land Administration is the price for him being summoned to serve as the fig leaf for the social hell that Netanyahu is preparing for us, if, God forbid, he should be re-elected."
The Labor Party's legal adviser appealed to the head of the Central Elections Committee to prohibit the appointment, calling it "improper, political and illegal."
Housing Minister Ariel Atias (Shas) expressed his anger over the decision, something which could put Shas' grip on the Housing Ministry in jeopardy. "Netanyahu himself blocked every effort to lower land prices in Israel in the previous government. His policy was for profiteering on lands in an attempt to generate 8 billion shekels (about $2 billion) in revenue for the state each year."
Hatnuah leader Tzipi Livni said, "Netanyahu has brought a supertanker meant to put out the fire he sees in the polls each day."
The Yesh Atid Party accused Netanyahu of preferring "gimmicks over organized plans" and Meretz chair Zahava Gal-On said that "the prime minister is apparently panicking again."
Moshe Kahlon himself spoke with Army Radio on Monday about his recently announced appointment to head the Israel Land Administration after the elections. Kahlon talked about the timing of the announcement, and the fact that the press conference Sunday night was barred from broadcast by the chairman of the Central Elections Committee, Justice Elyakim Rubinstein.
"The prime minister wants to show the Israeli people his intentions, as he always has. The timing wasn't right, the timing is never right in Israel," Kahlon said. "So the judge approved it, didn't approve it — so what? He is a Supreme Court justice and I respect his decision. But the attention given to the matter is a bit over the top."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Sunday night that Kahlon, lauded for breaking up cellphone company monopolies and lowering prices nationwide, would be appointed chairman of the Israel Land Administration after the elections.
Kahlon's appointment will go into effect with the swearing in of the new government. The decision was made final last week, in a discreet meeting at Netanyahu's office. The meeting was attended by Prime Minister's Office Director-General Harel Locker, high-level real estate executives, including ILA Director-General Bentzi Lieberman, and Interior Ministry Planning Administration Chairwoman Binat Shwartz. It is unclear whether any representatives of the Housing Ministry, headed by Atias, were present at the meeting.
Talks with Kahlon regarding the ILA position began shortly after his announcement that he would retire from politics in October. Netanyahu insisted that Kahlon stay in government to help lower housing prices and the cost of living - one of the major issues of the social protest movement which broke out in Summer 2011. The original plan was to have Kahlon handle the issue as part of Netanyahu's first hundred days planning team, however at the same time the option of the ILA appointment was also looked into.
When it became clear that it was possible to appoint Kahlon by re-legislating the current legal framework, talks were stepped up between the prime minister and Kahlon. The ILA's board of directors meets once a month, allowing Kahlon to continue working in the private sector as he had planned.
Netanyahu said on Monday the appointment was aimed at "significantly reducing housing prices for all Israeli citizens, with an emphasis on young couples and recently released IDF soldiers." Likud-Beytenu said Netanyahu's move was proof of his commitment to lower the cost of living and that the next government intends to lower the price of housing by 30 percent in two years.
Netanyahu held a press conference Sunday night with Kahlon to announce the appointment, but Central Elections Committee Chairman Judge Elyakim Rubinstein prohibited its broadcast, saying it was elections propaganda.
Likud-Beytenu members were quick to condemn the judge's decision. "A great injustice has been done. It is absurd that the Central Elections Committee gets involved only when complaints are filed against the ruling party," Erdan said. Likud-Beytenu intends to demand that all party press conferences not be broadcast, including Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich's conference scheduled for Monday.
In Netanyahu's press conference, the prime minister said he was sure that "with Minister Kahlon we will lower housing prices, as we did mobile phones. In the past months, I have had many talks with Minister Kahlon and offered for him to be part of the next government if he chooses. I praise the minister for his decision to take on this position. I promise to give him my full support, as I did during his communications reform."
"I pledge that we will lower housing prices," Netanyahu said. "Moshe Kahlon is the right man at the right time to lead this reduction of prices."
Kahlon said that "the reform I will lead in the housing market will cause housing prices to drop, just like we lowered cellular communications prices."